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If you have cataracts or are worried about developing cataracts, protecting your eyes from sun damage keeps your eyes healthier for longer.
Sunglasses with ultraviolet-absorbing coatings protect your eyes, including the lenses, from damage. If you have cataracts, their progress will slow with less UV exposure. You reduce your risk of developing them at all.
After cataract surgery, your doctor will tell you to wear UV-protecting sunglasses for at least one year, even though your intraocular lens has a special UV coating too. You can speak with your eye doctor about specific recommended sunglasses to wear after cataract surgery.
Cataracts and Surgery: Causes and Protective Steps
Cataracts form in the lens of the eye as proteins degrade, and they can lead to blindness.
The clouding that begins as proteins change and clump together typically occurs with age. About half of 80-year-old adults in the United States have cataracts or have had cataract removal surgery. In some instances, trauma or damage to the eye can lead to cataracts, or congenital conditions can cause childhood cataracts.
With regular eye exams, your eye doctor will be able to notice if cataracts are forming, and they can monitor their progress.
Often, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will notice small spots or fuzziness in your lenses before the condition begins to impact your vision. While there is no way to stop cataracts once they start to form, there are steps you can take to slow their progress, including wearing sunglasses that protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light.
You can work with your eye doctor to decide if cataract removal surgery is appropriate. Typically, eye surgeons wait until your vision has been impacted enough that you cannot perform daily activities like driving or reading.
After cataract surgery, your eye doctor will give you specific steps to take as your eyes heal and adjust to a new artificial lens. One important step is to protect your sensitive eyes from UV radiation, including on cloudy days.
Protecting the Eye Reduces or Slows Cataracts
Prolonged or consistently high exposure to sunlight is one of the risk factors for developing cataracts. UV radiation can damage many cells in your body, including in your eyes.
This form of radiation can damage the proteins in the lens of your eye and eventually lead to clumping and clouding, which are signs of the early stages of cataracts. Sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UV rays protect your eyes from this kind of damage.
If you notice that sunlight feels too bright or brighter than it used to, this sensitivity to light can also be a symptom of cataracts forming. Even if you are able to see clearly otherwise, light sensitivity can indicate a change in your vision caused by an underlying condition, so it is important to get regular eye exams. If your vision changes suddenly, including a sudden sensitivity to light, make an appointment with your optometrist even if you already had an eye exam recently.
People with cataracts can slow the progression of this condition by limiting their exposure to environmental toxins. This includes quitting smoking and wearing sunglasses with UV protection. Slowing down damage to proteins can slow down cataract growth.
Sunlight plays a big part in cataract formation and management. It is also an important consideration after you’ve had cataract surgery. For several months after the procedure, your eyes will be sensitive, and it is important to protect them.
Cataract surgery involves replacing the lens of your eye with an artificial lens, which is called an intraocular lens. Your eye surgeon will give you a list of ways to take care of yourself, but in general, in the days or weeks after the operation, you should:
- Use special, prescription eye drops to help your eyes heal.
- Avoid getting soap and water directly in your eyes. You may receive a special eye patch to protect your eye during showers.
- Avoid rubbing or pressing on your eye.
- Wear special eye glasses or a patch to prevent damage to the eye, especially while asleep.
- Avoid high-intensity exercise, like running and swimming.
Most people return to work and normal activities within one to three days after cataract surgery. However, you may still need to wear glasses to see clearly, as it can take 3 to 10 weeks for the tissues around the intraocular lens to heal. Your eye needs time to adjust to the new lens.
Additionally, you will need to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes on bright days for at least one year after your procedure. These sunglasses will need UV protection.
If you have questions about the best sunglasses to protect your eyes after cataract surgery, your eye doctor can help you find the perfect pair. They may prescribe lenses to help you see better after your cataract removal.
Intraocular Lenses and UV Protection
There are a few types of intraocular implants that you can consider for cataract surgery.
- Monofocal: This is the most common type of intraocular lens and the one most often approved by insurance companies. This lens has one focusing distance, which you can choose — up close, medium distance, or far distance. Most people choose distance-focused monofocal lenses because they help them drive. Near vision can be corrected just as easily with glasses or a contact lens for the other eye.
- Multifocal: These lenses provide near and far distance vision at the same time because they have different zones with different powers, much like trifocal glasses. Your brain will learn to select the correct focus after a day or two.
- Accommodative: These lenses act more like natural lenses, moving and reshaping inside your eye as the muscles around the lens attempt to focus.
- Toric: This lens also treats astigmatism by reshaping the eye, so the cornea correctly refracts light to the retina.
You may choose to pay extra for one of the other lenses, but it is most likely that you will receive a monofocal lens after your natural lens is removed. Inflexible intraocular lenses, whether monofocal or multifocal, are made of either silicone or acrylic. They typically have a special coating to protect the eye from UV radiation.
This special UV coating has become standard practice since it was first used in the 1980s. However, standards for this type of protection in intraocular lenses were not introduced until 2013 by European insurance companies.
Recent studies have shown that short wavelength light, including UV and blue light like that emitted from computer screens, can damage the retina along with other delicate parts of the eye. The natural lens in the eye offers some protection to the retina and other internal structures. When that is removed and replaced with an intraocular lens without special protective coatings, sun damage can become more severe.
What to Look for in Sunglasses Before and After Cataract Surgery
Even if your intraocular lens has special coatings to protect against short wavelength light damage, especially UV radiation, it is important to wear sunglasses outside, as directed by your eye surgeon.
When looking for protective sunglasses, the tint or darkness of the lens does not matter. Instead, look for:
- High optical quality, with no manufacturing defects like bubbles in the lenses.
- Scratch-resistant lenses.
- Larger frames to cover more of the eye.
- 99 to 100 percent UV protection.
Ask your eye doctor for a prescription for sunglasses after cataract surgery, and wear them for at least a year. You can protect your other eye, along with the structures in the eye with the intraocular lens, by continuing to wear sunglasses on bright days, especially during summer, after a year has passed.
New UV-protective intraocular lenses work well, but wearing sunglasses improves outcomes for the health of your whole eye.
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What Are Cataracts? (November 9, 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
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Cataract Surgery. (November 9, 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Cataract Surgery: What to Expect at Home. (December 3, 2017). MyHealth.Alberta.ca.
IOL Implants: Lens Replacement After Cataracts. (May 25, 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Reliable UV-Light Protection in Intraocular Lenses – Scientific Rationale and Quality Requirements. (September 23, 2014). Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde.